Three quarters of people involved in the study agreed that A-level and GCSE exams in 2021 should be reformed to take into account the learning losses experienced during the pandemic.

Widespread public support for job guarantees and exam reform, survey shows

There is strong public support for job guarantees and reforms to exams in 2021 to help young people affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey shows.

Just under two in three, or 64 percent - of those who took part in the research agreed or strongly agreed the Government should introduce job guarantees to avoid long term unemployment.

Three quarters of people involved in the study - 74 per cent of parents and 77 per cent of sixth form students - agreed that A-level and GCSE exams in 2021 should be reformed to take into account the learning losses experienced during the pandemic.

The LSE-CEP Social Mobility Survey involved 10,010 individuals aged 16 to 65 contacted between 14 September and 12 October 2020, combined with analysis of the April 2020 survey from the Understanding Society Household Longitudinal Study tracking 18,000 households across the UK.

Just 7 percent disagreed and only 2 percent strongly disagreed with the introduction of job guarantees. There was support from voters for all political parties, with more than half of Conservative supporters – 57 per cent - agreeing or strongly agreeing with this policy.

Only 8 per cent of parents and 5 per cent of sixth form students disagreed with changes to exams next year. The survey also found strong support among university students for exam reform.

The research was carried out by Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter and an Associate of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, Andrew Eyles, from the Centre for Economic Performance and Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.

Professor Machin said: “The time has now come for the Government to consider bolder longer term job retention schemes to avert the catastrophe of long term unemployment. It can scar lives permanently, leading to lower earnings and poor well-being and mental health, as well as having a negative impact on families and communities.

“The case for job guarantees is even stronger now as unemployment spells are lengthening, as individuals who have lost their jobs cannot find new positions of work.”

Professor Elliot Major said: “People who took part in the research had serious concerns and worries about the impact of unequal learning loss during lockdown before children returned to school on exams they will take in future.

“Options might include slimmed down tests or tests with more optional questions, alongside a credible plan B to use quality assured teacher assessments if exams become unviable. What should be a priority is fairness. There will be uproar if the 2021 cohort of pupils do not receive a similar proportion of top grades awarded to the 2020 cohort. And there will be difficult questions if Scotland or Wales adopt different approaches to England.

“What is clear is that the current policy in England of delaying end-of year exams by three weeks in will not be enough to assuage growing concerns among parents, pupils and teachers. Everyone also needs assurances that universities, as well as colleges, sixth forms and employers, will make even greater efforts to identify and enrol talented pupils from poorer backgrounds who, through no fault of their own, have slipped a grade this year.”

People supported a post qualification application (PQA) scheme for university admissions being introduced in England. Almost half, 49 per cent, of parents and 60 per cent of sixth form students agreed or strongly agreed universities should judge student applicants on their actual grades rather than predictions by their teachers. This compares to 15 per cent of parents and 10 per cent of students who disagree or strongly disagree, with 36 per cent of parents and 30 per cent of students remaining neutral on the question. The survey also found strong support among university students for PQA.

Two thirds of university students who took part in the survey agreed with the policy of lowering entry grades for students from poorer backgrounds.

The results have been reported by the authors in a blogpost published by the LSE's politics and policy blog, COVID-19 and social mobility: the public support key policies that will help limit widening inequalities in employment and education.

Date: 6 November 2020

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